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France - Getting there & away, getting around

France - Getting there & away

Air France, France's national carrier, and scores of other airlines link Paris with every part of the globe. Other French cities with direct international air links include Bordeaux, Lyon, Marseille, Nice, Strasbourg and Toulouse.

Paris is the country's main rail hub, with services to/from every part of Europe. The completion of the Channel Tunnel in 1994 has meant travel between England and France - on the silent, ultra-modern Eurostar rail service - is now quick and hassle-free.

Paris is the country's main bus hub, with services to/from every part of Europe. Buses are slower and less comfortable than trains, but they are cheaper, especially if you qualify for the 10% discount available to people under 26 or over 60 or hunt around for discount fares. The Chunnel has high-speed shuttle trains that whisk coaches from England to France.

By sea, the quickest passenger ferries and hovercrafts to England run between Calais and Dover, and Boulogne and Folkestone. There are numerous routes linking Brittany and Normandy with England; Saint Malo is linked by car ferry and hydrofoil with Weymouth, Poole and Portsmouth, while Roscoff has ferry links to Plymouth. Ferries also ply the waters between France and Ireland (Cherbourg-Cork), the Channel Islands, Sardinia (Marseille-Porto Torres), Italy (Corsica-Genoa) and North Africa (Marseille-Algiers, Marseille-Tunis, Sète-Tangier).

Getting around France

France's domestic airlines link most urban centres, and since the long-protected domestic airline industry has been opened up, discounts have made internal air travel an option even for budget travellers.

Interregional bus services are limited, but buses are used extensively for short-distance travel within regions, especially in rural areas with relatively few train lines (eg, Brittany and Normandy). On longer trips, buses tend to be much slower but slightly cheaper than trains; on short runs, buses are generally slower and more expensive.

Having your own vehicle can be expensive, and is sure to be inconvenient in city centres where parking and traffic are problematic. Be warned that most driving in France is done with the horn, or 'French Brake Pedal', as it is often called. As a rule of thumb, don't be timid or overly respectful once on the road as this technique will often confuse the natives. Renting a car is expensive if you walk into an office and hire a car on the spot, but prebooked and prepaid promotional rates are reasonable.

France is an eminently cyclable country, due largely to its extensive network of secondary and tertiary roads that are relatively lightly trafficked.

Local transport includes the cheap and efficient Metro and RER underground networks in Paris (there are also metro lines in other cities).

France has an excellent rail network, operated by the state-owned SCNF (Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer), which reaches almost every part of the country. Thanks to the high-speed TGV (train à grande vitesse), travel between some cities (eg, Paris and Lyon) is faster and easier by rail than by air.

Another relaxing way of seeing France is to cruise its canals and navigable rivers by houseboat. These usually accommodate four to 12 passengers and can be rented for a weekend or several weeks.

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